It's safe to say that there aren't many companies today that rival Vita Needle Co. at least in one respect–the average age of workers at the Needham, Mass.-based manufacturer of steel tubing products is 73 years old. Its oldest production employee, a retired waitress named Rosa Finnegan, just turned 94.

But where some employers would see the statistic as a problem, Vita Needle's President and CFO Fred Hartman has actively pursued this kind of workforce as a solution to a tight labor market and staggering employer healthcare costs. "Back in the 1980s, our company was on hard times," recalls Hartman, a mere 53 and a fourth-generation owner of the family firm that books about $5 million in revenues each year from about 1,000 customers worldwide. "We needed employees, but only part time, and we found that the only people applying were people who had been laid off elsewhere, who were in their 60s and 70s."

Hartman says he hired this group of workers "and then as I watched how hard and diligently they worked, a light bulb went off." Since then, the company has almost exclusively been hiring retirees, he says.

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